The Washington Post Calls U.S. Abortion Ban “Inhumane”

On May 29, 2015 The Washington Post’s editorial board published an article titled “An Inhumane U.S. Policy.” This piece focuses on the harrowing experiences of women and girls around the world living in conflict zones, and emphasizes the reality of rape being used as weapon of war and the great need for President Obama to overturn the Helms amendment.

The Washington Post reports on the conditions of the women and girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The victims described their conditions in captivity, stating that they would often be locked up in houses and raped. Oftentimes, the militants would rape the women and girls with the intention of impregnating them so that Boko Haram’s mission could be sustained.  The Washington Post also mentions a report done by Human Rights Watch on a similar scenario in northern Iraq, in which it was documented that Yzidi women and girls experienced perpetual sexual violence by Islamist militants in the area. It is important to note that sexual violence is also currently being used as a tactic of war in Syria, South Sudan, and other places worldwide.

Due to the Helms Amendment of 1973, these women and girls who are raped and impregnated by Boko Haram and other militant groups are not able to get lifesaving abortions. Many are often left with the limited choices of attempting to bear the child or unsafely trying to abort the child themselves, both of which engender numerous medical and social consequences. The Helms amendment has harsh restrictions on United States foreign aid, and mandates that this aid cannot be used to fund abortions regardless of reason. More than 200 of the women and girls recently rescued by Boko Haram in Nigeria are pregnant; with the Helms Amendment and subsequent abortion ban in place, what can be done to help them?

The answer lies in the overturning of the Helms Amendment, which can be done with an executive order from President Obama. While President Obama has acknowledged that rape is a weapon of war, he has not taken definitive action. As an integral part of Global Justice Center’s “Rape as a Weapon of War” project, we have urged President Obama to sign an executive order that clarifies exceptions to the Helms Amendment when rape, incest, or a life-threatening situation is present.

Overturning the Helms Amendment would mean providing appropriate medical care and lifesaving abortions to the women and girls who are victims of war rape. President Obama must stand up for the rights of women and girls to reduce their hardship and set an example for the rest of the world to follow.

See Jen Sorensen’s Great Political Cartoon: “Thanks to This US Law, Boko Haram Rape Victims Can’t Get Abortions”

On May 26, 2015 political cartoonist Jen Sorensen posted a caricature of the United States’ abortion policy in relation to the 600 Nigerian girls who were rescued from Boko Haram, an estimated 214 of whom had been raped and impregnated by the militants.  Sorensen calls the United States’ abortion policy “utterly retrograde” and cites GJC’s work of urging President Obama to end the abortion ban, as it is imperative that “the UN Population Fund can do its job.”

Read the full post here.

Stigma of War Rape in Nigeria

Recently hundreds of girls were rescued from Boko Haram. These military rescues have been widely applauded and measures are being taken to help the women in their healing. Tragically, certain Nigerian communities look upon the survivors of Boko Haram’s abductions with distrust and dislike. The animosity stems from hatred for the terrorist organization and fear of their tactics, but nonetheless, the victims are entirely innocent and deserve to be treated with respect.

Those who managed to escape from the famous Chibok abduction last April have been taunted and ridiculed. It is thought that their time with the organization somehow tainted them as ‘Boko Haram Wives.” Some of these girls, who were only in captivity for a short time, have chosen to leave their homes because the harassment can be so intense.

Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno, created further challenges, when he said “I am seriously worried with the fact that most women tend to hate and abandon children they deliver from rape. Now, the problem is that these children could go to the streets unattended to, they then lack access to food, health care and education. The result is that they could indeed inherit their fathers’ ideology somehow.”

From interviews, it has been ascertained that the survivors of Boko Haram feel deeply shamed. There are numerous organizations working to provide support, critical now, as hundreds of women and children have recently been rescued and need medical and psychological attention.

The one medical service these organizations cannot provide is abortion. Due to the Helms Amendment passed in 1973, which bars any US foreign aid funds from going to an organization that provides abortion services, international aid organizations are hamstrung in their ability to fully help these girls.

Rape as a weapon of war constitutes torture and, in some cases, genocide. As survivors of war rape, these girls are allowed the protections provided to victims of war and torture and deserve comprehensive medical rights, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The denial and restrictions of these rights puts the United States in direct conflict with the Geneva Conventions.

Even pro-life supporters will admit that there should be an abortion exception for rape. The women and girls who survived Boko Haram are victims of war rape and sexual slavery. Those that returned pregnant are facing additional suffering due to being denied their rights under the Geneva Conventions. Many of the impregnated women are young and malnourished, leading to complications in the pregnancy and further, if these women were to delivery safely, it is likely that their children would be endangered by the same distrust and associations with Boko Haram.

It is more urgent than ever, for the women and girls who are being kidnapped by terrorist groups, that President Obama overturn the Helms Amendment and grant them full access to medical care.

Click here to read the full article. 

If These Walls Cold Talk, They Would Be Censored: U.S. Restrictions on Pro-Choice Speech

If United States foreign assistance funded the writing of this paper, which addresses free speech and women‘s rights issues of the utmost international concern, the authors, two United States citizens, would be censored—by U.S. law—from making any statements that advocated for abortion in any context.

Because the writing of this paper is not conditioned on the revocation of the authors‘ First Amendment rights, this paper can and will examine the legality and impact of U.S. abortion speech restrictions on foreign assistance recipients. The restrictions violate U.S. constitutional protections of free speech and contravene international law regarding democratic reform of criminal abortion laws abroad and human rights guarantees, including the right to health. Although the U.S. places myriad abortion-related restrictions on foreign assistance, this paper focuses on the speech concerns of the Helms Amendment3 in the context of domestic constitutional law and the Helms and Siljander Amendments4 in the context of international law. 

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GJC Burma Researcher Phyu Phyu Sann quoted in Southeast Asia Globe article on Burma's War on Women

Global Justice Center's Phyu Phyu Sann states:

"The judiciary has been firmly entrenched as a key tool of the military in Burma since 1988 when the military junta suspended the 1974 constitution and declared martial law, taking for itself all legislative, administrative and judicial powers," said Phyu Phyu Sann, a Myanmar researcher at the Global Justice Centre. "Like Stalin, sergeant-general Than Shwe perfected using judges as a weapon of choice for purging the population and those deemed a threat to his regime. The judiciary remains the same under the current civilian government."

She continues further:

"Changing the military's policy of discrimination and sexual violence against women is one of the most important reforms that need to be taken if we ever want to see real progress in Burma." However, Phyu Phyu Sann said the chances of the ruling elite championing women's issues as part of the current wave of legislative and administrative reform are slim to none, as it would involve far deeper, fundamental changes to the system. "Since the constitution was purposefully crafted to be difficult to amend, moving towards true democratic reform is unlikely," she said.

Click here to read the full article.

Excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Global Studies (2012) published by SAGE Publications Inc. "Global Justice and Legal Issues"

The concept of global jusitce is premised on the belief that all poeple are entitled to certain fundamental human rights solely by virtue of being memebers of the human community. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was a seminal step toward this vision; for the first time, states agreed to uphold the fundamental rights and liberties of their citizens. Enforcement of these human rights guarantees, however, has been severly constrained by the nearly impregnable doctrine of state sovereignty. International law, traditionally limited to regularting behavior between states and not between individuals and a state, reinforced this state-centric view of human rights. This article was written by Janet Benshoof for the Encyclopedia of Global Studies in 2012.

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Reality Check, “Why Is The U.S. Waging War on Women Raped in War?”

Reality Check publishes an article titled "Why is the U.S. Waging War on Women Raped in War?" by Kristina Kallas and Akila Radhakrishnan - both GJC team members.

This article discusses the crises caused by rape as a weapon of war, and the lack of adequate response from the US. The article explains that though the 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act allows for abortion funding in cases of rape in armed conflict, it has been interpreted differently. Post-abortion care for unsafe abortions is not enough, and these women and girls are still being denied the right to safe abortion services.

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Global Justice Center and Other Women's Health Advocates Call for the Obama Administration to Make the US a Leader in Pushing for Reproductive Rights Worldwide in Conscience Magazine

Women's health advocates are disillusioned with the lack of effort the Obama Administration has made in addressing reproductive rights for women around the world. Michelle Goldberg details the work of these advocates and the frustration they are experiencing with the Administration in a recent article published in Conscience Magazine. Since 1973, with the passage of the Helms and later Siljander Amendments, prohibitive US policies have prevented access to reproductive healthcare for women around the globe. Fortunately, the GJC sees a new and unique opportunity for the current Administration to overturn the policies that prohibit access to abortion for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

Both the Helms and Siljander Amendments leave room for interpretation, and as Goldberg notes, "American aid programs needn't interpret [those Amendments] as narrowly as they do." Barbara Crane, Vice President of Ipas points out that a precedent does exists for exceptions in the cases of rape, incest and to save a woman's life. Until now, the US has refused to provide abortion care, even for women and girls impregnated as a result of rape. As enumerated by the Global Justice Center in a legal brief released earlier this year, it is a violation of the rights of girls and women in conflict to deprive them of adequate medical services under the Geneva Conventions. These detrimental US restrictions must be overturned as they further victimize those most in need of protection and complete healthcare; girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict.

The international reproductive community had high hopes when the President decided to overturn the Global Gag Rule three days into office; however it only removed restrictions placed on foreign NGOs receiving US funding from engaging in any abortion related activities using their own private funds. Real impact can be made by repealing the Helms Amendment, which will remove censorship on the $49 billion dollars in foreign aid distributed by the US. While many feel as though the chance has been lost, especially with Republican control of the House, and recent attempts to drastically reduce funding for family planning, an executive order would immediately ensure that US funds provide care to the women and girls that need it the most.

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